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July 26, 2021


This is the fourth part of a series on minimalism, where I’ve tried to reflect conceptually on the mindset shifts I’ve had and also detail the practical ideas I’ve adopted while living full-time in a van. In this final piece on minimalism, I’m going to show you some of the specific items that have been particularly helpful to us. If you haven’t seen any of the other articles, you can start with Part One here.

I can’t guarantee that any of these items will be applicable to your particular path, but at the very least, they will help to place you within the same headspace we found ourselves while downsizing. And maybe this will help you develop some of your own ideas.

1. Toilet, bucket, trash can. Ok, this thing is a bit odd, and will likely not be as useful for you if you’re in a larger rig with a built-in toilet or if you’ve got the space for a five-gallon bucket set-up. The reason this has been so useful for us is because it’s compact, collapsible, and has multiple purposes. In the photos below you can see what this item looks like when it’s fully assembled, but it’s also collapsible. It’s intended purpose is to be used as an emergency toilet. We haven’t used it in that capacity yet, but it is very nice to know we have the ability to do so if one of us gets food poisoning and going outside at night ten times to dig a hole doesn’t sound appealing.

In Moab, Utah, there are limitations on the use of public lands within 20 miles of the city. So instead of being able to park freely on any BLM land you come across–like you normally would–you are limited to camping only at marked spots and you MUST have a self-contained toilet. My guess is, there has been such a huge influx of people and problems with trash, habitat destruction, and crowding, so these regulations are a way to try to control the situation a bit. BLM rangers are known to even do spot-check inspections on campers to verify they have some kind of self-contained toilet. And ours would be acceptable. So while we haven’t actually used it, it’s been a great item to have. A problem that comes along with infrequently used items is that they’re taking up space and not providing anything useful in return. Fortunately, this item also functions as our trash can and (in conjunction with a piece of wood) as the base for a makeshift table. You can have a look at it here.

2. Plywood 1×12. There are surely substitutes for this that are probably more useful and versatile, but we kind of fell into this because we purchased these to use for another van project and then ended up not needing them. We use these as desks to sit laptops in our lap. I use them as a food preparation surface. And we use them as a partition for keeping items separated and from shifting while we are driving the van.

3. Exterior storage. This was an absolute game-changer. Since my van is so small, it was imperative that we capitalize on any and all space. Something we considered for a while were rooftop containers to mount on our roof rack. This was a good potential option, but these containers would be inconvenient to access and would also block the solar panels and prevent optimal charging. We eventually found a Plano bow case that mounted perfectly to the back of our dirt bike rack with some ROK Straps. It’s not the easiest to see in the photo, but look for the yellow latch for the case near the spare tire for the bike. Then you’ll see the rest of the case. We use this to store items we don’t use as frequently and it has been a great way to clear out some additional space in the van. We also found a way to mount our leveling blocks and my yoga mat to the outside of the van, which has also created a lot of space. These changes may seem insignificant, but in a van this small, every square inch counts!

4. Kindle. I’ve always been someone who loves to read, although I didn’t read as much as I would’ve liked while in the Army. So, there’s a lot I’m hoping to catch up on. I hear a lot of other people describe themselves as someone who “loves to have an actual book in their hand” and because of this, they’d never be able to use a Kindle. I also enjoy having an actual printed book, so initially, I brought about ten books with me on this trip. I ended up mailing several back and giving some away. I really warmed up to the idea of a Kindle, and it’s been such a useful, convenient tool that takes up very little space. I love that you can get books immediately and also highlight and drop notes within the text of a book. I really think a Kindle is a must-have if you’re living in a smaller vehicle!

5. Silicone collapsible food storage containers. These containers have been such a useful purchase. You can buy them anywhere now since they’ve become quite popular, but these are the specific ones I got off of Amazon. They have been incredibly practical because you can easily store them when they aren’t being used and when they’re full of food, as the amount of food within the container decreases, I can slowly begin to collapse the container so it takes up less space in my refrigerator. The containers are inexpensive and functional and I’m happy that we decided to try them.

6. Pots and pans that nest within each other for easy storage. You can find some sets that include nesting pots and pans, which would probably be the ideal option. I didn’t do this and opted to buy individual items, so you just have to verify that the measurements make sense. My large pot is slightly shorter than my small pot, so they don’t nest perfectly, and I really wish they did. If you purchase individually, I’d really recommend putting in the time to research ones that fit together–it makes a difference! Here’s my favorite pot–it’s great for cooking a side dish like a pot of rice or some soup for a single person or a couple. The handle collapses inward and helps secure the lid to the top of the pot, which makes it usable as a container for leftovers as well.

7. My all-in-one mug, measuring cup, bowl, food storage container. Ok this thing is pretty cool. It’s essentially an insulated, oversized mug/cup that can also function as a bowl. It has a very secure twist-on lid, which also makes it great for storing leftovers. Lastly, it has measuring marks on the inside of the cup, which I don’t use often, but when I need them–I’m glad I have them. Items like this are absolutely critical because they can replace several other items and free up a significant amount of space. This isn’t as much of a challenge if you’re living in a larger rig, but if you’re backpacking, weekender camping, or in a small van, extreme space-saving is important and necessary. I’m sure there are plenty of other similar contraptions out there, but this is the one that I purchased.

8. Seasoning packets. This took a bit of time to develop. I really enjoy eating–so consequently, I like cooking. I love flavorful food and I brought a LOT of spices and sauces with me. It quickly became apparent that this was a disaster of clutter for me. So after a couple of months, I began shedding non-essential spices and sauces, which wasn’t easy, because I love them all so much! But, it got to the point that it was difficult to keep them organized and easy to access, and I wasn’t using them often because of this. So, I got rid of everything except for salt and pepper! Another thing, I also like to eat as healthy and natural as possible. This hasn’t been as simple as I assumed it would be while living in a tiny van–but that topic is for another time. That being said, seasoning packets were the next best substitute for having an entire spice rack. There are definitely some compact or traveler spice racks out there–but for one reason or another, it wasn’t going to work with our setup. But, they might be great for you! What I ended up purchasing are pre-mixed seasoning packets. Taco, ranch, lemon pepper, buffalo, onion soup…the list goes on. These have been a, tasty compromise for not having all of my spices and herbs and have really enabled me to have some cooking variety.

9. Non-perishable alternatives to perishables to conserve refrigerator space. So again, this is more of a “small rig problem,” but it’s still something to keep in mind. We have a 38L refrigerator so we have to be methodical about what goes into the fridge and how it’s arranged. I’m always on the lookout for any alternatives to refrigerated items. Obviously there are infinite examples of this, but my favorite thing has been Laird’s powdered coconut creamer. It’s sometimes available at Costco, and is much cheaper with this option, but I’ve also purchased it on Amazon. I’ve seen matcha, chai, and cacao as other options, but I’ve only tried the plain flavor and plain with medicinal mushrooms. It’s tasty, doesn’t take up the fridge space that half and half would, and if I’m drinking coffee infrequently and it takes me two months to finish the bag, it’s no problem! I’m not having to worry about a spoiled perishable product. So in this line of thought, everything from dehydrated vegetables to canned chicken are helpful in conserving the precious space in your refrigerator and reducing the frequency of grocery visits!

Alright, none of this was rocket science, but they are small realities of life the past several months that have been revealed to me after getting a little experience. If you have any recommendations of your own, feel free to send me a note! I’m always interested to hear from other road trippers. This is the final part of this series–thank you for reading!